Two to three times a week, business owner Kristie Romano finds herself feeding quarters into Downtown parking meters outside her Vitality Juice smoothie bar. With the clock ticking, she and her husband load up the car with plastic, aluminum, glass and corrugated boxes to take to one of the city's recycling centers.
Frequently, this recycling run takes place at night after a 12-hour workday, when the couple is anxious to get back to their 2-year-old daughter at home. When the run happens earlier in the day, the lengthy loading process makes it likely they'll find a parking ticket on their windshield, a glaring example of the obstacles faced by environmentally conscious business owners in Albuquerque. It's a symptom of the fact that, in this city, no curbside recycling pickup exists for businesses, even though they're some of the largest waste producers.
Fortunately for Romano, her hopes of having curbside recycling pickup at her restaurant may soon become a reality. The city's Solid Waste Department is conducting a pilot program with five businesses in Albuquerque to help determine the logistics of a city-run recycling pickup program for area businesses. Many questions must be answered before the program gets underway, including: How much it will cost the city or participating businesses? What parts of the city will be covered? And when will the program be launched? Solid Waste Deputy Director Art De La Cruz says city officials are kicking around the idea of holding a conference in December to hammer out the program's details.
"The plan is in the discussion stages right now," De La Cruz says. "It's possible the city would be able to do this program citywide, but we're not ready to say that for sure yet. It will probably be a few months after we get more concrete plans that we're able to launch the program." De La Cruz also says the city doesn't want to get in the way of companies that already provide recycling pickup for businesses, preferring instead to act as a conduit between businesses and those companies. "If businesses aren't going through us to recycle, that's fine, as long as they’re doing it. We want to be able to provide people with information about companies involved in recycling pickup and we want to encourage businesses to recycle as much as they can."
For Romano, getting a company to come pick up her recycling is prohibitively expensive. Many companies that do recycling pickup only take certain types of recycling, such as office paper. Companies like Waste Management Inc., which takes most types of recycling, charge $80 a month to pick up a three-yard container once a week.
"Unfortunately, as small business owners, my husband and I are spending all our money just to run our business," Romano says. "We don't really have enough extra income to pay for recycling." De La Cruz says he's unsure whether the city could provide curbside pickup for less than a private company, but for many businesses, the cost could be made up by having to throw less trash away, thereby paying less for trash pickup.
Financial factors aside, both De La Cruz and Romano say getting businesses to recycle is a key to the city's future.
"I'm just thrilled they're even considering curbside pickup," Romano says. "It would be so much easier than what we have to go through now and it just seems like the right thing to do."
De La Cruz estimates a huge chunk (roughly 50 pecent) of the city's waste is produced by businesses, and he says programs like this will help Albuquerque enjoy non-environmental benefits as well. "The thing about recycling is it creates jobs," De La Cruz explains. "It's more than just good for the environment, it's good for the economy and it's the right direction to be moving in. We just need to make sure we keep moving in that direction."